The University of Newcastle, Australia

Recognising excellence and impact

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

With Professor Zelinsky starting at UON on 19 November, this will be my last fortnight as Acting Vice-Chancellor and, I must say, it is certainly ending on a high note.

Professor Nick Talley AO with Premier Gladys BerejiklianLast week I had the privilege of seeing Laureate Professor Nicholas Talley named NSW Scientist of the Year at Government House in Sydney, in recognition of his ground-breaking research into gut disorders that affect one in five Australians. These are disorders like irritable bowel syndrome, indigestion and reflux, and Nick’s work has already changed the way clinicians treat patients here and abroad.

It is the fourth time in the award’s 11-year history that a University of Newcastle researcher has received the top honour. Laureate Professor John Aitken, Laureate Professor Graeme Jameson and Laureate Professor Scott Sloan were previous recipients. But perhaps more important that the accolade itself was the opportunity it afforded us to reflect on the enormous contribution that research like this is making on people’s every-day lives. As Nick said himself:

“When you have unexplained symptoms, where you can’t find an obvious cause, people say it’s all psychological, or worse. And that’s not our view of many, or most, of these conditions. We see them as a group of diseases, and we found pathology where none was said to exist.”

“In my own clinical practice, I treat patients differently because of this research than I would have treated them before. I can see the translation directly.”

Conjoint Senior Lecturer Scott SleapAnother high achiever to be recognised recently was Conjoint Professor Scott Sleap (pictured left: image source, who won the $50,000 Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Secondary Schools. Scott teaches at Cessnock High School and works closely with the Faculties of Science and Engineering to deliver and implement many highly successful STEM outreach programs. Scott is also a recent PhD grad from UON.

And never one to miss an opportunity to further encourage young people to take on STEM-based subjects, Scott used the win to highlight our Integrated STEM program.

“I am especially proud of the development of the innovative UON Graduate Certificate in Integrated STEM program. This course serves as a strong support pathway in each of the STEM disciplines and has the effect to break down siloed approaches within teaching and industry which helps support strong skills development for the current and future workforce. I strongly recommend teachers and industry personnel consider engaging in this program,” Scott said.

Awards and external recognition like those above help to shine a light on the passionate and hard-working people across our institution and among our partner organisations that work tirelessly to create opportunities and improve the lives of the next generation.

Indeed, the NHMRC grants are likely to be announced publicly any day now, and will provide yet another opportunity for us to celebrate our researchers. While we are extremely proud of our high performing seasoned veterans, it is encouraging to see the emergence of research impact with our early and mid-career scientists - who are making a difference.

Being in the Acting Vice-Chancellor seat for this time has given me greater exposure to high achievers throughout UON. Learning about such diverse talent and achievement is, indeed, an inspiring and humbling experience. Thanks for the opportunity to lead the organisation during this time. I’m sure you’ll join me in welcoming Alex when he starts later this month.


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